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A laborer injured in January 1998 while working on the Philadelphia City Hall Annex’s conversion to a Marriott Courtyard Hotel has secured settlements of nearly $3.6 million from five companies involved in the project. According to court papers filed in Weatherly v. Annex Center Realty Inc., et al., Leighton Weatherly incurred spinal cord damage when a section of ceiling being cut above him fell prematurely. Weatherly’s attorney Robert Nemeroff of Jaffe Friedman Schuman Sciolla Nemeroff & Applebaum in Elkins Park said that his client — at the time of the accident a 58-year-old from North Philadelphia who had been working as a laborer on local construction sites for more than 25 years — is confined to a wheelchair and has only limited use of his arms and legs. Nemeroff said that the defendants contributing to the settlement were Annex Center Realty, the redeveloper that owned the building during construction, $250,000; Burt Hill Kosar Rittelmann Associates, an architectural firm hired by Annex, $25,000; Gilbane Building Co., hired by Annex to manage the construction on the building, $1 million; demolitions subcontractor Joe Rags Inc., which was hired by Gilbane, $67,500; and Central Salvage Co., Weatherly’s employer and another demolitions subcontractor hired by Gilbane. Central Salvage’s excess insurance carrier is to pay $2.25 million. Settlement negotiations were complicated by the fact that Central Salvage’s primary insurer, Reliance Insurance Co., entered into liquidation in October 2001, attorneys involved in the Weatherly case said. According to court papers, Weatherly was working as part of a three-man team demolishing a portion of the fifth-floor ceiling at the time of the accident. The first worker created channels around the piece of ceiling to be demolished, the second cut the ironwork supporting the ceiling with a blowtorch, and the third, Weatherly, stood on the ground, assisting the second man and making sure sparks from the blowtorch did not start a fire. When cut, portions of the ceiling were supposed to drape against an adjacent wall and the remaining iron support would be burned through after a drop zone had been cleared, court papers state. Instead, Weatherly asserted, the ceiling portion broke off and fell on him. Weatherly contended in part that Annex had failed to have tests on the building’s interior damage performed prior to demolition; that Burt Hill, which prepared the demolition specifications, did not add to demolition plans information from a structural engineering condition survey; and that Gilbane did not require Central Salvage to perform a pre-demolition engineering study. Among the points raised by the defendants was that Weatherly had walked in to the drop zone at a time when he had been informed by another worker that the ceiling portion was about to fall. Nemeroff said Central Salvage’s excess carrier, Chubb Insurance Co., would not contribute to the settlement until the $1 million primary coverage originally provided by Reliance had been exhausted. Ultimately, Gilbane’s carrier agreed to pay $1 million, thus allowing Chubb to contribute to the settlement. Central Salvage was contractually required to indemnify Gilbane, according to Nemeroff, but that indemnification did not extend to a scenario in which Gilbane’s independent negligence caused or contributed to a worker’s injuries. Nemeroff, who handled the case with Daniel McCaffery, a colleague at Jaffe Friedman, said Weatherly’s case had all but ground to a halt by the time they took over in April 2002; Weatherly’s original attorney, a solo practitioner, was elderly and in declining health and a Philadelphia common pleas court had entered a non pros order against Weatherly. Another judge eventually vacated the non pros order but gave Weatherly only six months to complete discovery, which had not even been started, Nemeroff said. Stephen Saltz of Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky joined as co-counsel to help prepare the case in the time allotted. The case settled March 25, the day before jury selection was to begin, Nemeroff said. Joseph Breymeier of Naulty Scaricamazza & McDevitt, who represented Central Salvage, said that in major construction accident and medical malpractice cases where Reliance’s insolvency has left a gap before excess coverage can apply, excess carriers have for the most part been willing to help defendants not have to swallow those costs. Annex was represented by Frederick Lachat Jr. and Joshua Baer of Margolis Edelstein; Gilbane, by Robert Devine of Margolis Edelstein; Joe Rags, by Jonathan Field of Mintzer Sarowitz Zeris Ledva & Meyers; and Burt Hill, by Jeffrey Adler and Robert Ray of Burns White & Hickton. None immediately responded to calls seeking comment.

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